Wait and see…

Sometimes there’s more to something than meets the eye. Like the tomato and cucumber plants my daughter gave me in June. We knew it was a little late in the season to be growing on, but ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’, and so they had house room in a sunny position for a few weeks before I moved them outside.

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While the cucumber soon established itself and quickly produced fruit…

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…the tomato plant looked unconvincing. So much so, that in August I nearly consigned it to the compost heap – it had finally come into flower, but the weather seemed to be on the turn and with not much between my garden and a Welsh mountain, I doubted if the fruit would have time to mature before summer’s end. My son however, persuaded me to wait and he was right – we are finally eating tomatoes!

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Sometimes it’s a good choice to wait and see. Truth is, I like things sorted, but life isn’t always black and white. The grey areas in-between can hold possibilities – potential that can go unrealised if we dismiss things too quickly, or at a particularly low moment, or when we feel drained.

Recently I felt like stepping out of an energy sapping situation but realised there were uncertainties that were preventing me from making a clear decision, so I’ve chosen to wait. Waiting isn’t necessarily a passive state. Sometimes there are actions we can take to optimise positive outcomes. A bit like giving the tomato plant a final chance – removing fruitless stems, placing it in good light, and keeping it watered but not water logged.
I believe that if we choose to engage with God, we too will find ourselves in clearer light with our true needs met. It will call us to look honestly at ourselves, and our situations, and make informed, balanced decisions.
Discernment is a process. I don’t believe in a God who waves a magic wand, but in a presence that wills the best all round. What flourishes and what appears to fail, is part of this, so I wait and see…

Truth is… “Watch for the new thing I am going to do…” (Isaiah 43:19)

Marvellous…

Marshall, my assistance Hearing Dog, needs daily ‘out-of-uniform’ walks when he can run free and play with his canine friends. One of our favourite places for this is in the ‘Groves’, a beautiful beech wood that’s a stone’s throw from where we live.

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It has numerous tracks that weave around the contours. In summer it’s mainly dry underfoot, but in winter the Welsh climate makes it squelchy! To make the paths that lead into town more accessible during inclement weather, some of the paths have been topped with crushed rock, including one which has a very steep gradient.
Recently I remarked to my adult son who was walking with me, “It must have been very hard work to make this path, just imagine moving all that aggregate up the incline”. He stopped, and with a bemused expression, replied, “But they would have worked their way down, not up!”
Clearly, I had missed the obvious. I always walk up the steep path (I use a different route going down) and therefore assumed the trail-blazers had likewise worked from the bottom up.
We burst out laughing, but truth is, sometimes my assumptions blind me to alternatives.
So I’ve been reminded to be more flexible in my thinking.

One of my favourite films is ‘Marvellous’. It’s the true story of Neil Baldwin who refused to accept the label of learning disabilities, and instead has had an extraordinary life as a registered clown, university welfare officer and football kitman.

two_neils_zpskmbeszuiNeil Baldwin, and actor Toby Jones who plays him in the film ‘Marvellous’

Whereas some people have tried to limit him with their narrow assumptions, Neil has broadened many people’s outlooks with his wide assumptions. If he wanted to do something, he did it, and astounded people with his results.
He wanted to be a clown, and so he joined a circus.
He wanted to welcome students at Keele University, and so he became a familiar figure over the years, with an honorary degree being awarded in recognition of his contribution to student welfare.
He wanted to work at Stoke City Football Club, and so he became Kitman, with the Manager famously saying it was the best signing he’d ever made.

We all have had, and have, difficulties in life, and these can lead us to feel we’re  pushing a load up an incline. But Neil offers us an alternative view. “I always wanted to be happy, and so I decided to be.” That’s not to say that he, and we, won’t experience setbacks, but as he says: “when bad things happen, I remember something good.”

Truth is… Unlike the culture around you, dragging you down, God brings the best out of you. Romans 12:2

Stumbling blocks or stepping stones…

I tend to stumble and my last tumble necessitated hospital treatment. I hobbled in but walked out with almost a spring in my step, thanks to an air-splint. ‘What a clever invention’ I thought, and proceeded to bash on regardless! But it turned out this wasn’t such a good idea, as it slowed healing and recovery.

As I reflected on my tendency to ‘keep on keeping on’, I realised that there are times when this isn’t the best move. Life has cycles and seasons, and so do we. After a time of activity or demand, we will probably need a slower time when we recover and regain strength. Sometimes though, I think I can over-ride the need to stop.
I know I’m not alone in this. There are many who find it hard to take a break – only this week a friend emailed along the lines of ‘why do I have to reach my limit to feel I have a right to sit and relax?!’

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It’s a good question to ask ourselves when we find ourselves going around in endless circles of activity.
Sometimes our activity is a natural consequence of where we are in the life-cycle. If we have children, they rightly require our care and commitment; if we are employed, we will have agreed to a contact. Such activity is par for the course.
But other times our unceasing activity is unnecessary and ultimately harmful. It can distract us from paying attention and working through uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, or it can perpetuate poor self-worth with the feeling that we don’t deserve a break.

I believe that God has called each one of us to life, and so we are intrinsically full of worth. Some of our life experiences may tell us otherwise and we may find ourselves driven to prove ourselves, but we need to reconnect with God who delights in each of us.
Truth is, deep hurts mean I struggle with this, but I do believe in a God who offers a way forward. It takes honesty though, and that’s why it’s important to pause at times, and open ourselves to the love of God that shines light on the matter. Then our stumbling blocks will become stepping stones…

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Truth is… ‘I make all things new, beginning with you, and starting from today’ (Song: John L Bell, Iona Community)

Ready, steady, go…

Sports Day, and children lined up waiting for the teacher to start the race with the words “Ready, steady, go”. Sometimes there are ‘false starts’ with someone overstepping the mark, and they have to be called back into line.

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– I remember that scene from my own school-days, and truth is, as an adult I sometimes find myself running ahead in life.
Fear is like a starting pistol. Something fires off, and I find myself propelled into the future with thoughts like ‘What if…?’ ‘Then what…?’ ‘How will I… ?’ ‘How will they…?’ And running ahead in my mind, I stumble.

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I haven’t got the answers, because the answers aren’t yet in sight – they are round the next bend on the track, and clearly in God’s sight. I believe that God has the answers, but we won’t see them until the time is right – simply because we wouldn’t understand. This is a thread that runs through the Bible:

God – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”
(Isaiah 55:8)

St Paul – “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror…what I know now is only partial”
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

So where are we on the track of life?
Are we in the right lane, or do we need to realign ourselves? Are we ready and steady, with God as a firm foundation?  Are we set to go, trusting God to enable us?

At times when I find myself making a false start (fuelled by fear) or overstepping the mark (propelled by panic), I find it helpful to remember that at school I was a competent cross-country runner. I had stamina. It came from commitment, perseverance, and wanting to do my best. All these qualities are transferable to daily life and faith in God.

It requires trust though. Trust that God knows what’s going on in our lives, and can weave our circumstances into a bigger picture, where different strands of different stories come together in ways we cannot imagine.
I’m grateful to a friend who reminded me of this recently:

Truth is…. Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life. (Philippians 4:7)

If the shoes fit…

As a child I loved imaginative play, including playing ‘shoe shops’ where I would gather every pair of shoes in the house and try them on for size. My brother’s rubber soled shoes were my favourite, because they were what the ‘Famous Five’ wore on their adventures. With my footsteps silenced by rubber, I felt I was there alongside my hero(ine) ‘George’!

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I didn’t take to my mother’s high heels though, and 50 years on, I sometimes catch myself wearing mis-fitting ‘shoes’. Truth is, I tend to be over responsible, so I sometimes step into shoes that aren’t really mine to wear.

The shoe analogy is quite fitting! Too big or too small, too high or too low, shoes can cause a myriad of problems. They can pinch, rub and distort. They can cause us to roll over, stumble and fall. But a well-fitting pair is a different experience altogether, and I believe this is what God holds out to each one of us. As Jesus said:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. (Matthew 11: 38-39)

So in our daily lives, finding ‘shoes’ that fit, is important.
The odd blister now and then is to be expected, and just like shoes can require ‘breaking in’, we may need to give ourselves time to become comfortable in a new situation.
Seeing how we measure up is a useful guide. If we are having to shoe horn ourselves into an overly narrow fit, or if the shoes we’ve put on are a loose fit, it may be that we need to consider alternatives.

My granddaughter has just learnt to walk, so she’ll soon have her feet measured for her first pair of shoes.

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Care will be taken to make sure they fit well, but include a little bit of growing room. As she gradually fills her new shoes, she’ll be re-measured and re-fitted.
I could do well to apply the same criteria to the ‘shoes’ I consider wearing – how about you?

Truth is… Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
(Matthew 11:38-40)

Standing tall…

As a child, I was the smallest in the class. I felt swamped by people in other ways too, as I was also bottom of the class. It took me a while to reach my full height in more ways than one, and truth is, I’ve got more ‘growing’ to do!
Haven’t we all…?

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Growing more fully into our true selves is a life-long process. It’s about standing tall, not being a shrinking violet; it’s about taking our place in the sun, not lurking in the shadows. But this doesn’t mean standing on others, or trampling them underfoot.

I’m inspired by Nikesh Mehta, a deputy director of GCHQ (the UK Intelligence Agency) who in a short BBC video speaks about daring to be different. He packs wise words into just a few minutes, and one of the things he suggests is finding a ‘champion’. He says:

It’s really important when you’re breaking new ground to find somebody who will encourage you to be yourself.

I guess we all benefit from having a champion in our life.
I believe that God, as our creator, is our ultimate champion. Having created each one of us with a unique combination of traits and gifts, God is clear about our potential and where our true fulfilment lies.
But God is not a remote controller. Rather, I believe that God can champion us through the words and actions of others. Champions come in many different shapes and sizes, so it can take an open mind and open mind to spot them.

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Champions sometimes confirm and affirm, other times they question and challenge, but always with our best interests at heart. It may be that they have the perspective to point out something that’s right under our nose, or maybe we are helped by them ‘being in our boat’ as we ride out a storm, or perhaps we gain courage from their belief in us.

As well as benefitting from champions, we can be champions ourselves. The world is a better place when we stand up for others and stand alongside them.
Life’s too short not to stand tall!

Truth is…  Listen, stay alert, stand tall in the faith, be courageous, and be strong.
(I Corinthians 16:13)

Behind the times…

My impression is that with the millennium, style and makeover programmes were all the rage. Maybe it was something to do with leaving the past behind and putting on the new. I’m not a follower of fashion, but such was their impact, that even I was aware of Trinny & Susannah and Gok Wan being fashionistas!
Stylists advise regularly taking a fresh look at one’s wardrobe to keep it up to date, and it strikes me that an analogy is to be had with our inner lives – what do we cling onto when it really doesn’t fit? What is outdated and needs replacing? What doesn’t really reflect our personality?

Out with the old, in with the new

Past experiences, including childhood circumstances, teenage tribulations and adult adversities, all have the potential to keep us behind the times. Truth is, I can sometimes slip into old thought patterns. Recently a friend commented that I don’t recognise my own value. Bang on, and it reminds me I have a choice. To continue to clothe myself in self doubt and dismiss the affirmation of others, or to step into the present and see myself as my friend sees me, as someone who quietly uses their God-given gifts, often in the back room.

Isn’t this true for all of us, that sometimes the past pulls us back? Echoes from the playground, the classroom, the office, or the clique in the corner, can catapult us back into previous life.  But we needn’t slip back into old thoughts and positions, like donning old, outgrown clothes.
As a child I loved the story of the Elves and the Shoemaker and the picture of the Shoemaker making perfectly fitting new outfits for the Elves.

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In a sense this is what God does for us today. Renewed and resourced, we can put on our true colours and be even more our true selves. Maybe for some it’s having the courage to try the ‘next size up’ in an area of life to see how it feels, while for others it may be to try something different.
As Gok says:

It’s all about the confidence

No more being behind the times then, in our inner lives!

Truth is… Baptised… you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself. (Galations 3:27)

Lost for words…

There have been several times when I’ve been at a loss for words – I’ve opened a blank Word document and begun writing, and at some point later, discovered that all my words have been lost. Sometimes this is my own fault – I’ve forgotten to ‘save’, while other times it’s a fault lying in the computer.
My response has varied from ‘it’s a crying shame’ through to ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’

It reminds me of choices, and the tracks we take.

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At times I make wrong choices, some of which are my own fault, while others result from ignorance. My errors are echoed in the words of an Anglican prayer of confession, in the line:

God, we have sinned… through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault

So, what do we then do?
Do we keep looking back to the past, with guilt or regret?
Do we try to re-write what cannot be re-written?
Or do we ask, as the prayer continues:

forgive us all that is past, and lead us out of darkness to walk [in] light

Truth is, I sometimes struggle with taking a fresh start and walking in the light. The darkness of regret pulls me back and weighs me down, and I struggle to believe I am forgiven by God.
Negative self-talk keeps us in the dark, but choosing to learn from the past and to put right what we can, leads us into the light.

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So, the choice is ours – to remain paralysed as miserable sinners, or move forward, forgiven and freed by God.
My head tells my heart to believe in God’s compassion, and so I’m going to choose the latter.
The fresh start that God offers, leaves me lost for words!

Truth is… Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come  2 Corinthians 5:17

Keeping in time…

Keeping in time isn’t something I find easy. That’s why I don’t play an instrument!
While the musical ability to keep in time isn’t essential in everyday life, in other ways, keeping in time is important.

Keeping in time with the beat of our Creator makes for a more harmonious life. When we come in at the right time, with the right power behind the note, we will be able to play the part that has been written especially for us. We will be part of a whole, part of the composition orchestrated by God.

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There’s something comforting about a beat. It takes us to the heart of the matter, which I believe, is that we each matter to God.

A vivid memory from my childhood, is of a bereft puppy who found comfort in the ticking of a travel clock placed under its mat. I was told this was because it resonated with memories of its mother’s heartbeat.
Are we not the same? Truth is, I feel bereft at times, but if I keep close to God, there’s a heart-felt union.

God’s beat is steady, unwavering even when we make a mess of things.
It’s been said that there’s nothing we can do that makes God love us less, and nothing we can do that makes God love us more. God’s love is unchanging. Like a metronome, it sets the rhythm and helps us keep in time.

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If we can listen for the beat of God’s heart, we will find ourselves deeply connected with God. As St Augustine said:

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”

This connection is what enables us to become our true selves. It is the source of courage, of wisdom, and of selfless compassion. Attuned, we will be able to move in time with God’s Spirit. The song that comes to mind is Graham Kendrick’s ‘Teach me to dance’, so in my head I’m singing

…Teach me to move in the power of your Spirit
Teach me to walk in the light of your presence
Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart…

Truth is… Come near to God, and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)

Four candles…

If you’re familiar with The Two Ronnies (a UK comedy) you’ll know the humour contained in the words ‘four candles’.
In the sketch, a hardware shop keeper and customer become increasingly frustrated by misunderstandings. Word play and homophones result a series of wrong items being proffered, including ‘four candles’ rather than the required ‘fork handles’.

Something similar has happened to me. Last year we had exterior work undertaken to improve access to our home. Late one morning, one of the team tapped on the door and asked if he could borrow a fork.

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Handing him a garden fork, he broke into laughter and said “I meant a fork to eat my pasta lunch with!”
The incident caused a lot of hilarity that day, and I still laugh when I think about it.

We all misunderstand things at some point. Sometimes it can inject humour into a situation, but other times it can send us round in circles.
I believe that our inner compass directs us to look for God, know God, love God and be at peace. But how often do our misunderstandings of the nature of God lead us to avoid God, reject God, fear God and be discontent?

The Jesuit priest, Gerry Hughes, defined sin along the lines of

‘not letting God be the God of tenderness, love and compassion that God is’

My life was profoundly changed by these words. As a vulnerable 7-year-old in an austere convent boarding school, I had been led to believe that God was an angry wrathful character who tolerated no mistakes. It was a massive misunderstanding, and thank goodness, I later encountered a completely different image of God. A God who delights in each one of us, and who longs for us to become our personal best through God’s fresh starts, encouragement, nudges, and affirmation.

So I’m reminded to keep checking that I’m on the right track, and when I’m not, to realign myself.
Maybe I’ll light four candles, remembering that we are each loved by God – Father, Son and Spirit…

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Truth is… Neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
(Romans 8: 38-39)